Washington really is going to the animals. Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat running for an open Senate seat in Colorado, is coming under fire for a $500,000 earmark to build an animal bridge. The funding would be seed money to construct a $10 million bridge over Interstate 70 so elk and other large animals would, in theory, be able to cross the road without impeding traffic. Mr. Udall backed the earmark along with Republican Sen. Wayne Allard two years ago.
But with Mr. Allard retiring, the earmark is becoming an impediment to Mr. Udall's campaign to succeed him. Bob Schaffer, his Republican opponent, portrays Mr. Udall as another big-spending Washington insider who has lost touch with the priorities of voters back home.
Criticizing the bridge is popular on the stump and paid dividends in a recent debate for Mr. Schaffer. Mr. Udall tried to defend the earmark by saying, "It isn't about the elk. It's about the people in the car." Mr. Schaffer's response, which he repeated on a recent visit to The Wall Street Journal's offices: "The bridge to nowhere works fine -- if all the elk know where the crossing is."
This year members of Congress are finding wasteful spending is a political liability. Mr. Schaffer say he's pleasantly surprised at just how much Sarah Palin has energized not only the McCain campaign, but also grassroots Republicans across his state who are likely to boost GOPers down the ballot. What's resonating, he says, is the McCain-Palin call for increasing domestic energy sources (Colorado has giant undeveloped oil shale reserves) and reining in pork barrel spending. "Colorado is a conservative state," he tells us. Democrats only managed to capture a senate seat and the governorship in the last few years because they've "won by running conservative candidates."
One thing his Democratic opponent Mr. Udall can't do, however, is restyle himself as a conservative for state-wide voters. He's the four-term Representative from the Boulder area, the state's hotbed of trendy liberalism. Mr. Schaffer says he feels good about his position, with both candidates at about 40% in the polls. His goal now is to close the sale by convincing Colorado voters the Republican Party will stick to its principles and not go native this time in Washington. And guess who may soon be trying to follow the same path to victory? John McCain -- since handicappers like Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg are coming to the conclusion that Colorado is the state that will decide the presidential election.
-- Brendan Miniter
[THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S POLITICAL DIARY ONLINE]